The Manchester Writing School at MMU presents: Francis Spufford and Jean Sprackland – Unapologetic and Red Plenty.
Thursday 13thFebruary 2014
Words and Photographs by Chantelle Salkeld
The night begins with original readings from the students, who both produce some refreshing, and very different pieces of work. There to introduce them, and Francis Spufford, is Jean Sprackland,
who has published four poetry collections; one of which, Tilt, won the Costa Poetry Award in 2008.
Jean Sprackland and Francis Spufford
Francis is the author of I May Be Some Time, The Child That Books Built and Backroom Boys. He and Jean dive into a conversation about his 2012 novel Red Plenty, a book about “the moment in the mid-20th century when people believed that the state-owned Soviet economy might genuinely outdo the market, and produce a world of rich communists and envious capitalists.”
Francis explains how there are ‘recipes available in literature’ which come from history and that he likes the idea of being able to ‘wrestle with something boring’. When researching about Soviet economics, he visited the library to find some books, to find they hadn’t been taken out for 23 years and had gathered a thick layer of dust on them. (An emphatic blow of air to the audience emphasises this.) By that point, he started to think ‘things were getting potentially silly’.
Francis has created a hybrid in this novel of fact and fiction. He explains how he kept thinking of ‘the uncanny valley’; he wanted to describe something human enough to be recognisable but not enough to be plausible.
Jean and Francis then discuss his latest book, Unapologetic. This is a factual account about his experience of religious faith. Jean admits ‘I never felt like I was being persuaded into anything’ and he explains that this wasn’t his aim. He hopes that some of the questions he discusses in his books are ones other people may have too.
Spufford’s 2012 novel, ‘Red Plenty’
He believes that religion is receding and so he turned to writing as a place where ‘books do what books do’ and bring into focus Christianity and its properties. Francis knew that his first task for this book was to condense and sum up the whole of the New Testament into 30 pages, for those who know little about the content of the bible. ‘It was an interesting technical challenge,’ he says wryly.
Francis tells the story of The Return of the Prodigal Son in this cut down form. The younger son is ‘all flash and leather trousers’, easy to dismiss and cast out for doing wrong. But as the son’s father realises, we all need someone to accept us even after doing something wrong. ‘This is my son. He was lost and now is found.’ His ending sentence gathers an applause that fills the room.
Later, Francis explains how ‘comfort zones are for pink stuffed things’ and how he is always trying to attempt new writing challenges. Fiction, he explains is something he had to ‘creep up on’ and had to learn in stages. The Child that Books Built and Red Plenty are a credit to his versatility. He also writes memoirs and engages in science and travel writing.
During the Q&A he gives advice for shy writers. ‘If you think everyone is looking at you anyway, then you can do anything.’
A question from the audience closes the event: ‘how the hell do you get all of this stuff published?’
He replies that ‘it seems to be the wrong way around to look commercially first… One should aim to write and then think of a way around that afterwards.’
Sound advice from an incredible writer.
The Manchester Writing School host a number of free author events throughout the year, more of which can be found through their website.
Chantelle studies English and Creative Writing at MMU. She enjoys painting and poetry in her spare time. You can follow her on Twitter @Chantelle_L_S